What Causes Our Country's Brain Fart About Helping Family Caregivers?


What Causes Our Country's Brain Fart About Helping Family Caregivers?

brain-153040_640In November of 2013, we read The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why for our Caregiving Book Club. I loved this book for several reasons, including the simple advice shared on what to do during a disaster. When your plane crashes and you're trying to get out but the passengers next to you sit frozen with fear in their seats, you have to yell and swear at them. Kindness won't get the crowd moving. Swearing and yelling will.

Hence, my headline, the closest I can come to swearing. For now.

Paid family leave took center stage this week because of President Obama's State of the Union address. Federal employees will receive up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The President wants Congress to pass legislature that allows all workers to earn up to seven paid days of sick leave each year.

Certainly, new mothers and fathers need time off after the arrival of a child. And, absolutely, they need time off with pay.

We're still not addressing the other challenge in our workplace--employees who care for a family member with a chronic illness. Trying to figure out how to juggle a job with the 24/7 care needs of a family member can be like trying to run for president. You need a ton of money to make it happen. Only a few have the money that affords the help and resources it takes to provide care and effectively keep a job.

I work for myself. I'm wondering, though, how I would manage what's coming for my dad if I worked for someone else. My dad just had a procedure to remove a cancerous tumor. We'll know more about future treatments during our Feb. 2 appointment (that's a Monday) with the doctor. I don't need a calculator to know that seven paid sick days wouldn't cut it for what we're facing this year.

I'm just not sure why we continue to overlook the number of workers caring for a family member. Consider:

  • Gallup research estimates American businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in productivity from absenteeism among full-time working caregivers.

  • Caregiving employees are more likely to report health problems like depression, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, costing employers an estimated average additional health care cost of 8% per year, or $13.4 billion annually, according to the MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs.

  • The report also found that younger caregivers (ages 18 to 39) cost their employers 11% more for health care than non-caregivers, while male caregivers cost an additional 18%. It also found that eldercare may be closely associated with high-risk behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption. Exacerbating the potential impact to employers is the possibility that these medical conditions may also lead to disability-related absences.

  • According to The Metlife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, adult children age 50+ who work and provide care to a parent are more likely than those who do not provide care to report that their health is fair or poor. The study reminds us that the percentage of adults providing care to a parent has tripled since 1994.

  • Women and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Caregiver’s Crisis, a study released in June, found that, while three quarters of survey respondents feel capable of providing care, 49% feel overwhelmed, 36% report depression, and 65% have not had a vacation in the past year.

A 2012 report released by AARP found that 42% of U.S. workers provided unpaid eldercare for a family member or friend over the last five years. And, 49% expect to do so in the coming five years. And, that's just eldercare. Consider how large that number gets when we take into account those who care for spouses, siblings and adult children.

Caring for a family member with a chronic illness means doctors appointments, late night visits to the emergency room, hospital stays to manage a health crisis. It's constant, time-consuming, expensive and stressful. And, for the family caregiver, a job is critical to keep it going. The job keeps money coming in and provides the much needed-medical insurance. Too often during a caregiving experience, a job is what's at stake.

We're looking at a future that includes empty cubes and full houses because of caregiving. Finding a solution that helps working family caregivers is becoming an economic necessity.

In June 2013, Pew Research Center released a study that says about 39% of U. S. adults–up from 30% in 2010–care for an adult or child with significant health issues. Chance are, someone in President Obama's staff is caring for a family member. Certainly, most members of Congress know someone who cares for an elderly parent or a spouse with cancer or an adult child with a chronic illness.

So, why aren't we talking about what these family caregivers need in order to stay in our workforce?

What do you think causes the brain fart that keeps us from helping family caregivers? Share your thoughts in our comments section, below.

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Amen and well said girl! I think they honestly have no clue what we face until it happens to them. End of story. I'm sharing your post in my group on fb, it will be a good read for all. Thanks for all you do, Denise.


What a difficult issue for sure!!! I spent weekdays with a dear friend as he was dying from a liver cancer tumor. His wife had taken so much time off, generous employer, but then in the last 6 months of his life, she had to go back to work. There was no way she could lose her job since she was facing widowhood. Fortunately, I was able to spend the afternoons every week day watching the comings and goings of Hospice, home health care and other assistants. He was a difficult person and I was able to give him comfort and assistance until his passing. I always felt bad that his wife had to divide her time between work and being with him in the last 6 months of his life. He had a long bout with this cancer with surgeries that just ate up his wife's sick days and generous time off :(.

John Parks-Coleman

To call it a brain fart is an understatement. When supervisors, managers, and even peers forget the number one thing that drives their organization -- the people, the greatest asset any organization has -- they have already failed. An organization, of any size, can benefit from retaining Caregivers; and, embracing their skills (multi-tasking and prioritizing to name just two). Technology allows for many companies to allow their employees to work from home on some projects, and split-shift other projects. The bottom-line about managing personnel, whether they are Caregivers or not, is that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you and work that much harder for you to maintain your overhead and reduce expenses.


I would call that a brain fart, <a href='http://www.caregiving.com/members/worriedwife/' rel=\"nofollow\">@worriedwife</a>. :) The employer saw this as a problem specific to an employee rather than a problem he will face as a business owner. How will he stay in business when more and more employees (because we know the numbers will only grow), face a caregiving situation? The employer lost more in losing you and will continue to lose until he understands that caregiving is a operational problem he needs to resolve. It's not a problem solved by firing or forcing out employees. It's a problem solved by figuring out best business practices to take care of the business and his employees.